Like we learned last week, it's not easy to be one of God's missionaries. Look at Amos. In the verse preceding today's first reading, Amos prophesied, "Jeroboam shall die by the sword/and Israel shall surely be exiled from its land" (Amos 7:11). This did not go over well. Jeroboam, after all, was the king of Israel. No wonder Amos was told to leave and never come back. But Amos did not leave, for he was sent by God to "prophesy to my people of Israel" (Amos 7:15). The apostles had it easier, for Jesus told them that if they are rejected they should merely "shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them" (Mark 6:11). But this delivered a strong statement, as it meant that that home was unclean, capable of polluting the rest of the town. Still, the apostles did not have it easy. They traveled without any food, money, or extra clothing. They had to trust God, had to be dependent on strangers. But in doing so, they successfully carried out Jesus' mission. They proclaimed the saving power of God in Christ Jesus, as did perhaps the most influential missionary of all time, St. Paul, whose Letter to the Ephesians begins with the rhapsody of praise we hear today.
How can we be part of God's mission?READ MORE
The life of a prophet is not easy. Prophecy demands one go against the flow. Ezekiel had an especially difficult task. He was called by God to prophesy just after the Chosen People were driven into exile. Somehow, he had to restore a sense of trust that God was still God, still all-powerful and still faithful to the covenant. But the Israelites were understandably “hard of face and obstinate of heart,” having been defeated by the Babylonians and evicted from the Promised Land (Ezekiel 2:4). Jesus faced an equally stubborn people in his fellow Nazarenes. Whether they were resentful or just plain skeptical, they could not accept that a great prophet could possibly have come from among their number. But if there is to be a positive lesson here, Paul points us toward it. Initially he begs the Lord to remove the infirmity that afflicts him. Scripture scholars are not sure if this is a physical ailment, an opponent, or something else entirely. But whatever the case, Paul makes his peace with it, realizing that in his very weakness the grace of God show itself most strongly. The power of God manifests itself most clearly in overcoming a difficulty, not in being easily successful.
How is the power of God manifested in you?READ MORE
The goodness of God in times of need is in full display in today’s readings. The author of the book of Wisdom wrote at a time that Greek culture had permeated Jewish traditions and Greek rule had divided the Jewish community. Wisdom tries to reconnect the people to their ancestral faith. God’s creation is good, and did not include death. We were created to be immortal in the image of God. Though the devil brought sin and death into the world, “justice is undying” (Wisdom 1:15). Living in accordance with God’s goodness leads to unending life with God. A century or so later a severe famine in Jerusalem inspires Paul to write a primer on Christian charity. Those who have in abundance are obligated to give to those who are in need. After all, Jesus, though he was God, emptied himself for our sake, allowing us to become rich in his grace. In today’s Gospel, Jesus encountered two people in need: Jairus, whose daughter was ill to the point of death, and an unnamed woman, who had been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years. Despite the opposite ways they approach Jesus, the faith of both in the goodness of God and in the power of Jesus over disease and death leads to healing and new life.
Do you see yourself more like Jairus, pleading to Jesus for help, or like the woman, too timid to approach Jesus directly?READ MORE
It is Isaiah who wrote, “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name” (Isaiah 49:1), but it just as easily could have been John the Baptist. He was also called before birth to serve the Lord. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son who would “be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb...to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Luke 1:15-17).READ MORE
What wonders the Lord can do! A tender shoot from a cedar becomes the tallest tree on the mountain. Seed scattered on the earth yields fruit of its own accord. A tiny mustard seed grows into a huge shrub. What’s more, in each case the fruit of God’s work extends its blessings to others. The majestic cedar in Ezekiel’s story provides shade and shelter for every kind of bird. The sower of the seed harvests the fruit of the untended plants. The mustard plant yields pods filled with seeds that add flavor to food. But these are all parables. Each image used by Ezekiel and Mark describes something else. Because the Israelites were in exile at that time, Ezekiel needed them to trust that God had not abandoned them. The tender shoot from the crown of the old tree suggests a future king from the linage of David, himself the youngest son of Jesse. The two parables of Jesus in today’s passage from Mark explicitly connect the stories to the kingdom of God. Like the fledgling Christian community in the time of Mark and Paul, the kingdom of God starts out tiny and seemingly insignificant. But if a small shoot can grow into a majestic cedar, if a tiny mustard seed can grow into a large plant, if a microscopic sperm and egg can grow into a human person, so much so can the kingdom of God be built up into a whole world as one.
How can you help build up the kingdom of God in the world?READ MORE
Some awfully strong accusations are made of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “He is out of his mind,” “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” “He has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:21, 22, 30). The accusers fail to understand where Jesus was getting the power to drive out demons, misattributing it to Satan, the prince of demons. Jesus explains how this is impossible, but then he turns it around by making an extremely harsh pronouncement: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness” (Mark 3:29). Why is it that this blasphemy, alone among all others, is unforgivable? Perhaps it is because it turns good and evil upside down. It says that what is good and holy is driven by evil. No, it is not an evil spirit, but the opposite, the Holy Spirit, that is “possessing” Jesus as he acts according to his Father’s will. So it is for us when we allow the Holy Spirit to act through us. As Jesus tells the crowd, of all the people who were gathered around him—relatives, scribes, neighbors, his own disciples—the ones who can truly be considered his family are those who do the will of God. Those who do the will of God are manifesting the Holy Spirit, for it is the Spirit who is driving them.
Are there times when you misconstrue the work of the Spirit, too readily dismissing something as misguided or wrong?READ MORE
Covenants in ancient times, whether between individuals or tribes, were often sealed with the blood of animals. Why? Because blood was equated with life. In Exodus, after agreeing to remain faithful to God and the commandments, the people perform a ritual that includes animal sacrifice. Moses sprinkles the altar and then the people with the blood of young bulls. What seems to us today to be disgusting was for the ancient Israelites a sharing of life. Blood was life. By sprinkling both the altar and the people with blood, Moses showed that God and the people were united in life. In the new covenant, the blood is not the blood of goats and calves, but the blood of Jesus himself. Life is not just life here on earth, but eternal life with God. Sacrifice becomes redemptive. When Jesus transformed the Passover meal into the first Eucharist, he anticipated his redemptive act to come, looking forward to being able to “drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). Today, as the Eucharist is celebrated around the world, we all continue to share in this life-giving covenant between God and humanity.
Does the Eucharist help you realize the covenant God made with us?READ MORE